Politics & Government

Del Norte DA Jon Alexander suspended

The State Bar Court has recommended disbarment of Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander, forcing the county to replace him as its chief law enforcement officer.

In a ruling released Friday, Judge Lucy Armendariz ordered Alexander ineligible to practice law as of Sunday.

Bar spokeswoman Laura Ernde said no one at the bar could recall a similar case involving a sitting DA losing the ability to serve in his elected office due to corrupt practices.

Alexander may now request review of his case by the State Bar Court Review Department, a three-judge panel, Ernde said. Ultimately, the judge's disbarment ruling must be approved by the California Supreme Court.

Del Norte County Supervisor Roger Gitlin said in an interview that the Board of Supervisors suspended Alexander without pay on Friday and appointed his former deputy Katherine Micks as acting DA. The Board will interview candidates to serve as interim DA until after the 2014 election.

"This is a historical day - a tough day for Del Norte County," Gitlin said. "(Alexander) is a very generous man in his public service. But it doesn't excuse this kind of behavior."

In a written statement, Alexander said he and his lawyers would "consider all options." He described the Bar's case as a conspiracy that combined "petty charges, discredited complainants and witnesses, and prejudicial statements and leaks to the media."

Charged with seven acts of misconduct, Alexander was found culpable of three, despite strong support by some community members who testified about his character and dedication as a public servant.

On balance, the judge found evidence against Alexander, a recovering methamphetamine addict, more compelling.

"Based on the serious nature and extent of culpability ... and aggravating circumstances, particularly his three prior records of discipline, the court recommends that the respondent be disbarred from the practice of law," she wrote.

Most of the issues in the case were first reported in a Bee investigation published a year ago.

A principal cause for the decision involved a case in which Alexander improperly talked with a criminal drug defendant. He attempted to gain information from her, asking "who sold you the drugs?" among other questions, despite knowing that she was represented by an attorney. Alexander's action violated the defendant's Sixth Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution, according to the judge.

Alexander also failed to inform the defendant's attorney of the conversation until after he learned the defendant had surreptitiously recorded it.

"His lack of candor and truthfulness in his dealings with the court and opposing counsel demonstrate that he did not comprehend his special duty as a prosecutor to promote justice and seek the truth, and not merely to convict," Armendariz said about that case. "(Alexander) clearly and convincingly committed acts involving moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption," she wrote.

Other charges included an allegedly improper $6,000 loan to Alexander from a local defense attorney for hair transplants. Prosecutors said Alexander later corruptly aided the attorney by dropping all charges against the attorney's client in a controversial child-stealing case.

Alexander also was accused of improperly lending $14,000 to a local probation officer.

Armendariz said that in those cases, "the appearance of (Alexander's) impropriety clearly harmed the integrity and reputation of the judicial system," even though the evidence did not unmistakably show the financial entanglements as acts "of moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption."

Alexander's attorneys had argued in his defense that accusations against him were unfounded or distorted. Alexander had blamed a disgruntled former employee and a former DA who was once his supervisor for unsupported complaints that led to the bar prosecution.

Such arguments were dismissed by the judge. Alexander was already on probation for earlier transgressions, and "demonstrated lack of insight into his wrongdoing ... (blaming) others for his ethical and professional lapses," all aggravating factors in her ruling, Armendariz wrote.

The Bar Court recommendation represents a dramatic fall from grace for an attorney whose career has been marked by sharp swings between despair and redemption.

Methamphetamine nearly killed Alexander, but he kicked the habit, resurrected his legal career and tirelessly assisted other addicts in their recovery. In 2010 he won the DA's job with a "death to meth" campaign slogan in the remote, rural county in California's northwest corner.

Some of the bar's prior disciplinary actions against Alexander involved behavior - including transgressions against clients - that occurred during his period of using meth. But even as DA, he crossed the line into corruption, bar prosecutors successfully argued.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Alexander's suspension, and the appointment of his replacement.

Call The Bee's Charles Piller, (916) 321-1113. Follow him on Twitter @cpiller.